Petty Theft & Other Theft Laws

Learn about petty theft laws and other common theft laws in your state.

Related Ads

Talk to a Criminal Defense Lawyer

Enter Your Zip Code to Connect with a Lawyer Serving Your Area

searchbox small

Theft is a crime that runs the gamut in terms of the seriousness of charges that an offender may face, and the severity of punishment that might be handed down. Stealing a $25 shirt from a clothing store would probably be charged as petty theft, while stealing $125,000 in jewelry will prompt a high-level felony theft charge.

This article provides information on the crime of petty theft, including possible defenses, and factors that will affect the severity of a theft charge. At the end of this article, you’ll find links to articles that give state-specific information on the crime of petty theft and penalties.

To learn about the laws in your state, jump ahead to the section on state by state theft laws

What is Petty Theft?

Theft, also known as larceny, is the taking of someone else’s property without consent and with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of that property. Petty theft is charged when the value of the item taken is less than a specified amount, such as $500. When items of merchandise are taken from a shop or store, the theft is commonly referred to as "shoplifting," which is simply a type of petty theft.

In a theft case (as in any criminal case), the prosecuting attorney must prove all elements of the offense that the accused person (the defendant) is charged with committing. Theft cases involve the following elements:

  • Ownership. The victim of the crime must have a "possessory interest" in the item taken. For example, if someone takes your jacket from your seat at the ballgame, the crime has been committed against you because you own the jacket. But if someone else's jacket was placed on your seat and then disappeared, the victim would be the jacket's owner, not you. The prosecution would have to produce the jacket's owner in court in order to successfully prosecute the accused thief.
  • Wrongful taking. The owner must not have given consent to the taking. Consent that is obtained by deceit or trick is not effective. For example, a gas station owner who lets a motorist borrow his tools, relying on the promise that the motorist will bring them right back, has not given consent if the motorist intended all along to keep the tools.
  • Carried away. The items must have been taken away, even just a short distance. The slightest movement is enough, as is exercising control over the property, as when a person slips a store item under another that's already been paid for.
  • The intent to permanently deprive. At the time the property is taken, the accused must have intended to keep it. The owner need not have been permanently deprived; it's the intent that this will happen at the time of the taking that's important. Even taking property and dealing with it in a way that creates a substantial risk of pemanent loss will suffice.

If the prosecution does not have evidence to support each of these elements, the crime should not be charged. And unless the judge or jury can conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that the elements have been proven, the defendant is entitled to an acquittal.

Defenses to Theft

The statutory definition of theft is sometimes the first place a criminal defense attorney will look in considering possible defenses to a theft charge. As mentioned above, if any required element of a theft offense is missing or can’t be proved, the charges may not stick (or may at least be reduced). So, a criminal defense attorney will look for possible defenses based on the circumstances of the case and the state's definition of theft. Some questions that might be raised include:

  • Did the offender actually take the property?
  • Did the offender believe the property was theirs at the time it was taken, or at least have a reasonable belief that they were entitled to take possession of the property?
  • Did the offender intend to eventually return the property?

Other common criminal defenses that might be relevant to a theft charge include entrapment and an alibi defense.

Punishment for Theft

Potential punishment (or sentencing) for a theft offense will depend on a number of factors related both to the offense and the defendant’s criminal history. See the state-specific links below for details, but in general, after a theft conviction a judge may order one or more of the following at sentencing:

  • Jail/Prison Time
  • Fines
  • Community service
  • Probation
  • Diversion program (usually for first offenders only)

The judge may be authorized by statute to order additional penalties, like payment of restitution to the victim of the theft (which means reimbursing the victim for the dollar value of the property stolen) or an additional penalty under a formula that considers the value of the property stolen (such as a penalty not to exceed four times the value of the property stolen).

Juveniles and Theft

When a juvenile is accused of committing a theft offense, the case will very likely proceed through the juvenile justice system rather than traditional criminal court, and the juvenile will face a different set of penalties if there is a finding of delinquency. To learn more, check out "Exploration of the Juvenile Criminal Process" or speak to an attorney who has experience handling juvenile cases.

State-by-State Petty Theft Laws

For information on the petty theft threshold, classification of other theft offenses, and potential punishments in a specific state, check out the information and links below.

State Penalties At-A-Glance
Alabama If the value of the property involved is less than $500, the offense is third degree theft. If the value of the property involved is greater than $500, but not greater than $2,500, the offense is second degree theft, a class C felony in Alabama. If the value of the property involved is greater than $2,500, Alabama law considers the offense to be first degree theft, which is a class B felony.
Alaska Theft in the third degree is a class A misdemeanor in Alaska, carrying a term of imprisonment of one year or less, plus a fine of $10,000 or less. For a class C felony, an offender may receive a sentence of incarceration for up to five years, and a fine of not more than $50,000. If a court convicts an offender of theft in the first degree, the offender may receive a sentence of imprisonment of not more than 10 years, plus a fine of not more than $100,000.
Arizona The theft of any property or services valued at less than $1,000 is a class 1 misdemeanor in the state of Arizona. There are five classes of felony theft in Arizona, which range in fines from $150,000 and jail time of four months to 12.5 years.
Arkansas Punishment for a Class A misdemeanor theft conviction in Arkansas includes a sentence of imprisonment of no more than one year and payment of a fine of not more than $2,500. Felony theft can result in jail time of zero to 20 years
California California law defines petty theft as the theft of any property with a value of $950 or less. Petty theft generally is a misdemeanor offense. The theft of property with a value of $950 or more constitutes grand theft under California law. Grand theft can result in a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the circumstances.
Colorado Colorado classifies theft crimes into the following: Class 2 Misdemeanor Theft, Class 1 Misdemeanor Theft, Class 5 Felony Theft, Class 4 Felony Theft, and Class 3 Felony Theft. Fines range from $20 to $750,000. Jail times ranges from none to 12 years.
Connecticut Theft will be classified as either a misdemeanor or felony under Connecticut law. Classifications are as follows: Larceny in the Sixth Degree, Larceny in the Fifth Degree, Larceny in the Fourth Degree, Larceny in the Third Degree, Larceny in the Second Degree, and Larceny in the First Degree.
Delaware Class A Misdemeanor Theft. In Delaware, theft is classified as a class A misdemeanor when the value of the property is under $1,500 . Class A misdemeanor theft -- the lowest-level theft offense under Delaware law -- is commonly known as petty theft.
District of Columbia Theft in the Second Degree. If a theft involves property or services valued at less than $1,000, the crime is theft in the second degree, which is a misdemeanor under District of Columbia law. Any person convicted of theft in the second degree will receive a sentence of imprisonment of 180 days or less, or a fine of no more than $1,000, or both.
Florida In Florida, the lowest level theft offense is called "petit theft", rather than the more commonly known “petty theft.” If the property stolen is valued at less than $100, the offender commits petit theft of the second degree, which is a misdemeanor of the second degree. If the property stolen is valued at $100 or more, but less than $300, the offender commits petit theft of the first degree, which is punishable as a misdemeanor of the first degree.
Georgia When a theft offense involves property valued at $500 or less, the crime is punishable as a misdemeanor in Georgia. Punishment for a misdemeanor includes a fine of no more than $1,000 and a sentence of imprisonment of no more than 12 months. If the theft offense involves property valued at more than $500, the crime is punishable as a felony, or as a misdemeanor, at the judge’s discretion.
Hawaii Petty Theft and Theft in the Fourth Degree: A person commits the offense of theft in the fourth degree, a petty misdemeanor under Hawaii law, when the offense involves property or services worth less than $100. Theft in the fourth degree (or petty theft) is punishable by a sentence of imprisonment of no more than 30 days, and/or a fine of no more than $1,000.
Idaho Petit theft, which is commonly known as petty theft, applies to most thefts of property valued at $1,000 or less. Some notable exceptions include property like livestock, firearms, checks, and credit/debt cards. These items fall within the grand theft statute, a more serious criminal charge. Petit theft, which is a misdemeanor in Idaho, is punishable by a fine of not more than $1,000, or by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one year, or both.
Illinois The theft of property valued at $500 or less is considered a Class A misdemeanor in Illinois. This level of theft is commonly known as petty theft. The typical penalty for a Class A misdemeanor conviction in the state of Illinois is a sentence of imprisonment for less than one year and a fine of no more than $2,500 for each offense.
Indiana There is no "petty theft" statute in Indiana. Rather, Indiana law refers to this level of theft offense as “conversion,” which is a Class misdemeanor. A person who commits a Class A misdemeanor may receive a term of imprisonment of not more than one year, as well as a fine of not more than $5,000.
Iowa The theft of property valued at no more than $200 is theft in the fifth degree, a simple misdemeanor under Iowa law. This level of theft is sometimes known as "petty theft," and is the lowest level degree of theft in Iowa. A person convicted of a simple misdemeanor can receive a sentence of a fine ranging from $65 to $625 and not more than 30 days in jail.
Kansas The theft of property or services valued at less than $1,000 is a class A nonperson misdemeanor under Kansas law. Punishment for a class A nonperson misdemeanor in Kansas can include a term of confinement in county jail for not more than one year, and/or a fine of no more than $2,500.
Kentucky Theft is considered a Class A misdemeanor under Kentucky law when the property taken is valued at less than $500 , assuming that the property is not a firearm and is not anhydrous ammonia, which can be used to manufacture methamphetamine. An offender faces incarceration for a term not to exceed 12 months, and a fine of not more than $500.
Louisiana For theft of property valued at less than $500, the offender will receive a sentence of imprisonment of not more than six months, or a fine of not more than $1,000, or both.
Maine The theft of property valued at $500 or less (other than a firearm or explosive) is a Class E crime under Maine law. This level of theft is commonly known as petty theft. Class E theft carries a sentence of incarceration in a county jail for a period not to exceed six months, plus a fine not to exceed $1,000.
Maryland A person who commits theft of property or services with a value of less than $100 will be charged with a misdemeanor in Maryland. This is a misdemeanor and carries a sentence of imprisonment of not more than 90 days, or a fine of not more than $500, or both. Furthermore, the offender must either return the stolen property to its owner, or pay the owner for the value of the property or services.
Massachusetts The crime of theft is called "larceny" in the state of Massachusetts. If the property stolen is valued at $250 or less, theft is punishable by imprisonment in jail for not more than one year or by a fine of not more than $300. This is the lowest-level theft offense in Massachusetts, and is sometimes referred to as "petty larceny" or "petty theft."
Michigan If the property stolen is valued at less than $200, larceny is a misdemeanor under Michigan law (sometimes called "petty larceny" or "petty theft." This level of theft is punishable by imprisonment for not more than 93 days, or a fine of not more than $500.00 or three times the value of the property stolen, whichever is greater, or both imprisonment and a fine.
Minnesota The lowest level theft offense in Minnesota -- often called petty theft -- occurs when the value of the property or services stolen is $500 or less. A person who commits theft at this level will receive a sentence of imprisonment of not more than 90 days and/or a fine of not more than $1,000.
Mississippi The lowest-level theft offense in Mississippi is called petit larceny, also known as petty theft. Petit larceny occurs when a person steals property valued at less than $500. Petit larceny is a misdemeanor under MIssissippi law, punishable by a sentence of imprisonment in the county jail for no more than six months, or by a fine of not more than $1,000.00, or both.
Missouri If the value of the property or services stolen is less than $500, the theft is a class A misdemeanor under Missouri law. A class A misdemeanor carries a term of imprisonment of no more than one year, plus a fine of no more than $1,000.
Montana A person convicted of theft of property not exceeding $1,500 in value will be ordered to pay a fine of no more than $1,500, or be imprisoned in the county jail for a term of no more than six months, or both.
Nebraska Theft constitutes a Class II misdemeanor in Nebraska when the value of the property stolen is $200 or less. This is the lowest-level theft offense under Nebraska law (sometimes called "petty theft"). In Nebraska, a Class II misdemeanor is punishable by no more than six months imprisonment or a fine of no more than $1,000.
Nevada Petit larceny, also known as petty theft, is a misdemeanor under Nevada law. A person convicted of a misdemeanor faces imprisonment in the county jail for no more than six months, a fine of not more than $1,000, community services, or a combination of these punishment options.
New Hampshire Theft constitutes a class A misdemeanor in New Hampshire if the value of the property or services stolen does not exceed $1,000. A class A misdemeanor is punishable by up to one year of imprisonment and a fine of no more than $2,000.
New Jersey Theft constitutes a "disorderly persons offense" in New Jersey if the value of the property or services involved in the theft is less than $200. A person convicted of theft as a "disorderly persons offense" faces imprisonment for a term not to exceed six months, and/or a fine not to exceed $1,000.
New Mexico When the value of the property stolen is $250 or less, larceny is considered a petty misdemeanor in New Mexico. A petty misdemeanor is punishable by no more than six months of incarceration in county jail or a fine not to exceed $500, or both.
New York The lowest-level theft offense in New York is called "petit larceny," or petty theft, which is the unlawful taking of property or services valued at no more than $1,000. New York law classifies petit larceny as a class A misdemeanor. 
North Carolina Larceny of property or services valued at $1,000 or less is a Class 1 misdemeanor in North Carolina.
Assuming that an offender has no prior convictions, the potential sentence for a class 1 misdemeanor in North Carolina is a term ranging from one to 45 days of incarceration.
North Dakota Theft is a class B misdemeanor in North Dakota if the value of the property or services stolen does not exceed $250. The punishment for a class B misdemeanor in North Dakota is a sentence of imprisonment of no more than 30 days, a fine of no more than $1,000, or both.
Ohio Theft is a misdemeanor of the first degree in Ohio when the value of property or services stolen is less than $1,000. 
Oklahoma The lowest-level theft offense in Oklahoma is referred to as "petit larceny," or petty theft, which is charged when the property stolen has a value of less than $500. Petit larceny in Oklahoma is punishable by a fine of $10 to $500, or imprisonment in the county jail for no more than six months.
Oregon Oregon law classifies the lowest-level theft offense in Oregon as "theft in the third degree," which is a class C misdemeanor. The total value of the property stolen must be less than $100 in order for the offense to qualify as theft in the third degree in Oregon. The punishment for theft in the third degree in Oregon is a maximum of 30 days in jail and a fine not to exceed $1,250.
Pennsylvania If the value of the property involved is less than $50, the offense constitutes a misdemeanor of the third degree under Pennsylvania law. 
Rhode Island Theft (referred to as “larceny” in Rhode Island) is a misdemeanor when the value of the property or services taken is no more than $500.
South Carolina The lowest-level theft offense is called "petit larceny," or petty theft, which is a misdemeanor under South Carolina law. Petit larceny is defined as the theft of property or services valued at $2,000 or less. Petit larceny in South Carolina is punishable by a sentence of imprisonment of no more than 30 days, or by a fine not to exceed $1,000.
South Dakota Petty theft in the second degree is defined as the theft of property or services valued at $400 or less.
Tennessee Petty theft in the second degree is defined as the theft of property or services valued at $400 or less and is a Class 2 misdemeanor in South Dakota. The punishment for a Class 2 misdemeanor in South Dakota includes thirty days of imprisonment in a county jail or a $500 fine, or both.
Texas Theft is a class C misdemeanor in Texas if the value of the property or services stolen is less than $50 and is a class C misdemeanor in Texas. It carries a fine of no more than $500, and does not involve any jail time.
Utah Theft of property or services valued at less than $500 is a class B misdemeanor in the state of Utah. The punishment for a class B misdemeanor in Utah includes imprisonment for a term of no more than six months and a fine of no more than $1,000.
Vermont The lowest-level theft offense in Vermont is called "petit larceny" (or petty theft) which is defined as theft of property valued at no more than $900. Petit larceny in Vermont is punishable by no more than one year of imprisonment, a fine of no more than $1,000, or both.
Virginia Petit Larceny. Defined as the theft of property or services valued at less than $200, or the theft of property valued at less than $5 when taken directly from the person of another.
Washington The lowest-level theft offense in the state of Washington is "theft in the third degree," which involves the theft of property or services of a value that does not exceed $750.
West Virginia The lowest-level theft offense in West Virginia (other than minor shoplifting crimes) is called "petit larceny” (or petty theft), which is defined as theft of property or services valued at less than $1,000.
Wisconsin In Wisconsin, theft is a class A misdemeanor if the value of the property or services stolen does not exceed $2,500. The punishment for a class A misdemeanor in Wisconsin can include a fine of no more than $10,000, imprisonment for no more than nine months, or both.
Wyoming If the value of the property or services stolen is less than $1,000, theft in Wyoming is a misdemeanor. This level of theft is punishable by imprisonment for not more than six months, a fine of not more than $750.00, or both.

by: , J.D.

Talk to a Defense Lawyer

Charged with a crime? Start here to find a lawyer.
HOW IT WORKS
how it works 1
Briefly tell us about your case
how it works 2
Provide your contact information
how it works 1
Choose attorneys to contact you
LA-NOLO4:DRU.1.6.2.20140917.28520